Award-winning design for a new generation

Warragamba Dam Visitor Centre showcased during Sydney Design Week

For architect Annabel Lahz, returning to Warragamba Dam during Sydney Design Week 2023 was like coming home. It was the first time in over a decade Annabel had seen the award-winning Visitor Centre she and her team designed.

“It was a delight to be back at Warragamba Dam and be reminded of how well the Visitor Centre building fits the site, and observe how well the building and interiors are fulfilling their intended purpose,” Annabel said.

As Director of lahznimmo architects, Annabel spoke about the design of the Visitor Centre during the Powerhouse Sydney Design Week event. WaterNSW speakers also addressed the engineering design of the dam wall, and the natural design of the catchment.

Completed in 2009, the Visitor Centre and Haviland Park’s recreation facilities won the 2011 AIA Premier’s Award for Architecture and the AILA NSW Landscape Architecture Award.

The Visitor Centre and Operations Complex is sited at the end of Haviland Park, to take advantage of the spectacular location overlooking Warragamba Dam and Lake Burragorang.

fountain before
The vista through Haviland Park before the new Visitor Centre was built, showing the green horizon line to the pristine bushland beyond.
fountain after
lahznimmo architects took care to maintain the vista through Haviland Park by designing the Visitor Centre to sit on a lower rock shelf, allowing the land form to gently rise up.

Building perches boldly on cliff edge

“From the cliff side, the building hovers dramatically over the edge of the rock face with a series of public viewing platforms, which sit on the different rock shelf levels,” Annabel said. “However, approaching from the Haviland Park side as visitors do, we wanted to downplay the building and emphasise the landscape.

“We achieved this by sinking the building down onto a rock shelf and allowing the land form to gently rise up, to create a new green horizon line and maintain the vista through Haviland Park.”

A new master plan for the Haviland Park site was required after major excavation to build Warragamba Dam’s new auxiliary spillway in the early 2000s. The auxiliary spillway diverts floodwaters around the dam in a rare and extreme flood so as to protect the dam and ensure it remains safe.

Excavation for the new spillway created a sheer cliff face some 25m high on which the Visitor Centre now sits overlooking the dam wall and Lake Burragorang.

lahznimmo architects teamed up with landscape architects SpackmanMossop Michaels in a joint venture LNSM for the Warragamba Dam Master Plan, Recreation Areas as well as the Visitor and Operations Centre.

“Haviland Park is listed on the State Heritage Register as an item of high-level state heritage significance in acknowledgement of its archeological remnants, the design and formalism of its landscape and plantings, and its significance to the NSW community as a place of recreation,” Annabel said.

“While being careful to preserve the site’s heritage, we were able to create new facilities that have helped introduce Haviland Park to a new generation of visitors.

“For example, we replaced the original picnic shelters designed for small nuclear families with more generous shelters, which cater for extended families and large group gatherings.”

Old picnic shelters
Haviland Park’s original picnic tables were designed for small nuclear families in the 1960s.
new picnic shelters
New more generous shelters cater for extended families and large group family gatherings.

Powerhouse Sydney Design Week 2023

WaterNSW joined with more than 60 events from 15-24 September 2023 as part of the Powerhouse Museum’s celebration of the critical research, industries, infrastructure and technologies that underpin design practice in Sydney.

The range of Sydney Design Week events was expanded this year to explore the complex and interconnected social and natural ecologies in which contemporary design operates.

WaterNSW was delighted Warragamba Dam was included as one of the standout new sites to explore the social, environmental and ethical issues facing designers, researchers and architects as part of the 27th Sydney Design Week from 15-24 September 2023.

Traditional owner Kazan Brown welcomed visitors on to Gundungurra Country and shared the creation story of how the deep gorges of the Burragorang Valley were gouged in a cross-country battle between two Dreamtime ancestors Mirrigan, a quoll like hunter and fisherman, and the rainbow eel Gurungatch.

It was Kazan’s daughter Taylor who cut the ribbon to officially open the new Visitor Centre building (with then Water Minister Phil Costa) back in November 2009.

Haviland Park after
An aerial view showing the part of Haviland Park that was excavated to build the auxiliary spillway in the early 2000s.
VC on cliff edge
Excavation for the auxiliary spillway created a sheer cliff face on which the Visitor Centre now sits.
Sunset over lake and dam

Sunset over Lake Burragorang and the dam wall from one of Warragamba Dam Visitor Centre’s viewing decks.

Free entry to our Visitor Centre and picnic grounds

Warragamba Dam is located 65 kilometres, or a one-hour drive, west of the Sydney CBD. It sits in a narrow gorge of the Warragamba River on the lands of the Gundungurra Nation.

Warragamba Dam grounds are open 8am to 5pm daily (10am to 7pm on weekends and public holidays during Daylight Savings).

Pedestrian access to parts of Warragamba Dam wall is available on weekends and public holidays only between 10am and 4pm.

Our Visitor Centre is also open daily from 10am-4pm. Entry is free. WaterNSW looks forward to welcoming you soon.

Published date: 3 October 2023

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WaterNSW acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we work and pay our respects to all elders past, present and emerging. Learn more